In 2018 I published a memoir in which I castigated myself for being an enabler – and indeed I was and still am. Instead of putting my addicted and indigent daughter permanently on the streets until she either died or got clean, I have allowed her to return home repeatedly, disrupting the peace of our entire extended family. For over two decades, our family has continued to pay for her irresponsible choices – both financially and emotionally. What overwhelming guilt I felt when a couple of reviewers raked me over the coals for being such a bad mother! One claimed that “three kids (the grandchildren I raised) are seriously screwed up because of it.” She was referring to my allowing my daughter to live in my home, and she further advised that I should have sent them all to stable homes instead of raising them myself in such a dysfunctional climate. Another said, “For what I believed to be an educated…logical thinking well-balanced mother I got to the point of strangulation,” and another scolded me for not laying down “good boundaries.” How many of my friends and acquaintances have offered their own advice to kick her out and throw away the key, or how many have offered no advice but silently judged me and shook their heads, tsk tsking my spineless actions. Dr. Phil would have a field day listing on his virtual whiteboard all the mistakes I have made as a mother!
But the more I have thought about it, especially in the past few months, the more I have come to this conclusion about those who criticize and judge my actions: Unless you have walked in my shoes, fuck you!
Unless you have raised a child with obviously genetic mental disorders and experience depression and anxiety yourself, you have no idea the challenges you face daily just trying to navigate life, let alone raise a stable and self-sustaining child to adulthood. And when that child does become an adult, you are powerless to intervene and force her to seek help, because the law says she has the right to make her own decisions – even if they are disastrous.
Even with mental illness as a complicating factor in my daughter’s life choices though, I recognized many years ago that my enabling was doing more to exacerbate her addictive behavior than to extinguish it, and I would have had no qualms about putting her out of the house permanently. But there were three, and now four reasons I could not do it. Her children. When I first discovered she was addicted to heroin, she had a three-year-old child who worshipped her. I had never even remotely entertained the notion that we would raise a fourth child until I was forced to make her mother leave our home. The choice then was to put her sweet and precocious little girl in foster care or keep her with us. In my mind, there was no choice, and I grew to think of my granddaughter as my daughter, as indeed I think of her today, over twenty years later. And then there was my first grandson. My daughter raised him by herself for five years. I disapproved of her lifestyle and was especially worried that he showed signs of unaddressed autism and ADHD, but I didn’t interfere, until her money ran out, her boyfriend deserted her, and she had nowhere else to go. I could easily have turned her away, but not her five-year-old boy. And unbeknownst to me, she was pregnant again, from a casual relationship with a married man. After my second grandson was born, the reality of her perpetual self-destructive behavior – using other drugs, even though she was on methadone maintenance, cycling through one loser boyfriend after another, refusing to take any measure to support herself, became so clear that I was forced to make her leave again – once again placing the welfare of her children in my hands. In the ensuing years, she cycled in and out of our house, usually after a breakup with a loser boyfriend, until she found another one to move in with.
It has been tough raising those kids, now 26, 19, and 13, but it has also been a joy like no other. They are all amazing human beings, and I don’t regret taking on the responsibility of their welfare one iota. Even though doing so has made a dent in our checkbook, and we have had to accept that our “golden years” will never be the earned idyllic escape from decades of toil that we always thought they would be, I would not trade my life with the most unrestricted of retired world travelers and lakeside dwellers. Those kids have added a rich dimension to my life that is immeasurable.
But once again, I am experiencing the déjà vu that I never would have predicted a couple of years ago. We once again have a baby living in our home, after our daughter fled the baby’s abusive, sociopathic father when he assaulted her while she held the baby in her arms. The “you will never live here again” edict long since having been issued, she promised to go right away to a domestic abuse shelter to try to get back on her feet again. That didn’t happen, nor did the promise of supporting the baby herself. The father has helped very little, and the hopes he will be able to are slim, since he has several other children to support. Her job opportunities came and went when I refused to provide daycare, and she couldn’t find (or so she said) a charitable organization to help out. And COVID 19 has thrown out even more roadblocks. So, we’re right back where we were a decade ago.
This time, though, my husband and I (for he has walked this walk with me) can’t take on the responsibility of raising another child – either physically or financially. And my heart breaks into a thousand tiny shards of grief as I ponder the necessity of tossing her out into the streets, the only way I can think of that she will be forced to take steps to better her life – if that’s even possible after decades of helplessness. What will happen to this sweet, innocent little guy whose face beams with pleasure when I walk into the room? He didn't ask for this mess any more than I did. Tears come to my eyes when I even begin to contemplate his future, and I pray to a merciful God daily that by some miracle he will have a healthy, secure childhood.
But, if others want to judge me, or chastise me, or tell me what they would do in my place, I invite them to truly walk in my shoes. I invite them to look into the eyes of their beloved innocent grandchildren and condemn them to a life of uncertainty and inconsistency. And to those who have opined, “If you had done it right in the first place, this would never have happened,” I say…well, I already have said it.